Other Half was a teenager when the Great New England Hurricane slammed into Hampden County, Massachusetts, in late September 1938. He had ditched school in favor of working at the fairgrounds in West Springfield during the Eastern States Exposition.
He was only fourteen then; however, he had worked on farms during the summer for several years. That experience helped get him hired for a short-term, 24/7 job at the horse barn. He looked forward to feeding and watering horses much more than he looked forward to sitting in a classroom. And dealing with horses was a whole lot better than dealing with school authorities. Horses didn’t yell at you because you weren’t paying attention in class. Or because you had failed to show up for school again.
“I stayed in the barn most of the time,” he said. And it wasn’t only the bad weather that kept him there. “I didn’t want to go outside a lot because the truant officer might be walking around.” Other Half had more than a nodding acquaintance with that guy. If the technology had been available then, the truant officer most likely would have had Other Half’s mom on speed dial.
Despite the wind and heavy rain, The Powers That Be initially expected to keep the agricultural fair open. However, the Exposition’s organizers revised that expectation when: (a) the roof of one of the buildings went airborne, (b) The Westfield River overflowed and began flooding the fairgrounds, and (c) the police “strongly suggested” that people get the heck out of there and take the animals with them.
Exhibitors with livestock trailers loaded up their animals and headed to safer areas. People without transportation rounded up the remaining horses and cattle and slogged through the storm to higher ground. Other Half was drenched by windswept rain as he led a horse named Scarlett O’Hara across an iron bridge and up to the old Agawam racetrack.
That was an experience he would never forget. And, of course, Other Half never imagined then that his job providing fodder for the horses in 1938 would one day provide a different kind of fodder for this blog post, written in between reading online reports about a hurricane named Irene in 2011.